Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Role Models"

The most accurate summation of David Wain’s “Role Models”: it has its moments. About a third of the jokes really land, while the rest seems as generic as can be, with the emphasis on story beats and familiarity making its 99-minute length seem quite a bit longer. The generic bulk is especially disappointing coming from Wain, who damn near reached the apex of absurd comedy in 2001’s “Wet Hot American Summer” and hasn’t come close since. The movie picks up with our protagonists, Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) – the sort of name you only see in movies – hawking their energy drink Minotaur to schoolkids. Soonafter, Danny is dumped by his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), the Minotaur mobile has desecrated a statue, and our pair is in jail. Said girlfriend, a lawyer, gets their sentence traded for a stint at Sturdy Wings, a big brother mentorship facility. Run by a cheerful ex-addict (Jane Lynch), Danny is assigned to cape-wearing Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Wheeler to foul-mouthed Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson). As expected, both pairs teach one another about life and enable each other to grow a bit. Basically, it’s a mid-80s family film, only with lots of dick jokes. In this ensemble, Rudd and Lynch are the real heroes of the movie, nearly compensating for everyone else and picking up their slack.

While I’d like to see Rudd show some diversity, like his roles in “Wet Hot” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” he’s still hilarious playing the same character over and over again; his deliver is unmatched, turning run-of-the-mill bits of dialogue into wry one-liners. Lynch, on the other hand, has seemingly evolved into the preeminent character actress of her generation, taking her place as the woman to put in your movie to funny it up – the female Stephen Root, if you will. Scott was infinitely more interesting in against-type roles in “Southland Tales” and “The Promotion” than he is here playing Dane Cook/Stifler for the umpteenth time. As the intended scene-stealers, the kids grated on my nerves the more the movie went on. Little kids cursing up a storm consistently leaves audiences in hysterics (also see: old white women saying things like “for shizzle”), but Thompson is wildly annoying, shrill, one-note and false. As for McLovin, I’m one of the few who didn’t like him in “Superbad,” and I think it’s a disgrace for him to have a career beyond that one iconic role; be gone, Mintz-Plasse, please! Meanwhile, Banks gets about as much to do as she did in the “Spider-Man” films, sitting on the sidelines with nothing funny to do. The jokes tend to slide from one end of the spectrum to the other; high points include a brilliant running joke about KISS and anything involving Lynch (including a hilarious, incredibly stupid bit involving a hot dog), while the LAIR (live-action role playing) stuff starts funny and gets repetitive, and the streak of homophobia is even less funny in the wake of Prop 8. Clearly striving for the Apatow feel, “Role Models” might’ve been a solid, fun, R-rated comedy with sharper execution , but aside from the occasional presence of inspired absurd touches and good one-liners, a lot of this feels familiar and uninspired.


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